By qualifying for the Championship 4 with a Martinsville move that will live on forever, Ross Chastain added another notch to what’s already been an impressive season for his Trackhouse Racing team.
And there is still more to do, as Chastain is far from ready to celebrate how far he and the organization have come. Justin Marks, who founded the team in late 2020, looks at this season as its debut year, considering Trackhouse is now fully independent. Chastain has been a big part of that success story and for Marks, regardless of what happens Sunday afternoon (3pm ET, NBC), the team’s already won.
Chastain, a two-time NASCAR Cup Series winner, isn’t necessarily buying into that notion. The 29-year-old watermelon farmer will compete for the championship for the first time Sunday, and he plans on being a serious contender.
“There’s a lot to lose,” Chastain said. “I want to compete. So, to beat 35 other drivers and these three especially, I need to go put forward the best race I can. It’s not like I can just go do whatever and fire it down the corner on lap 10 and hope it sticks and hope I run two-tenths faster. That’s not going to be the way we’re going to do this. You’re not going to be successful that way.
“The competitor takes over in me and I want to beat these guys. At the end of the day, I just want to beat them. That’s why we’re all here; that’s why we all love this, the competition. Yeah, I am doing it against some of my heroes, but we’ve got everything we need to go beat them. No, it’s not just a happy-to-be here. It’s a race. I’m so dang driven and competitive to beat people that it’s all I want.”
Chastain found a way to beat the drivers he needed to last weekend to earn his spot in the title race. Thursday at media day, the move was still the talk of the town, and Chastain was still trying to process how it played out perfectly. He also said that he has no plans ever to do it again, and that it wasn’t a pleasant experience.
The experience of getting to race for a championship is another story. Although Chastain is trying to approach it like any other race weekend, he has been struck by everything that is leading up to the green flag.
‘Gratitude’ was the word that he said came to mind. Over the last few days, Chastain has talked to family, friends and team members he’s worked with in the past. Former team owners have also reached out. Chastain has reflected on the opportunities he thought were in front of him that ended up disappearing.
“A lot of gratitude this week — and some nerves,” he said. “Look, this is wild and this is big. Yeah, it’s just another race, but I feel it. I love that I feel it because I’m getting to experience this. I’m going to remember these moments and yeah, they’re not pleasant in the exact second and minute to be feeling like you want to throw up and to feel like you have so much anxiety and you’re not doing what you need to be doing to prep. But experiencing media day and feeling the nerves of this, like, is so cool. I feel so fortunate that I get to feel it.”
Amazingly, what Chastain doesn’t feel is the pressure of carrying a very excited organization into a championship battle.
“I’ve got to say the weight was a whole lot heavier last year not being in the playoffs with (Chip Ganassi Racing). That was tough,” said Chastain. “I come into the 42 car, you see what Kyle (Larson) has done in it and it’s a lot of the same group together, and we just couldn’t make it go. Some of the packages — high power, low downforce — we went a little better. But low power, high downforce last year, I could not go fast, and I couldn’t race.
“Kicking off the playoffs on playoff media day last year was a humbling day for me. It was my first points season, full-time season in Cup, and I wasn’t there at the playoff media day. I didn’t ever think about final four media day. That was a lot heavier.
“Honestly, the success this year, the way Justin (Marks) and Ty (Norris) have structured the team, I feel less pressure now than ever. I had a lot last year. I had a lot back at Johnny’s (Davis). I had a lot at Niece going through all that. Winning races, getting DQ’d, start-and-parking the year before. That was a lot heavier burden to carry, not knowing what way is forward. I know now I want to be a Trackhouse driver for a long time.”